Rwanda remained the world’s leading country with the most number of women in government positions, according to the latest edition of the ‘Women in Parliament’ report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Besides the 61 per cent of the country’s parliamentary seats being occupied by women, the report also ranked Rwanda as the sixth country with women holding 50 per cent or more ministerial positions. According to the body, Rwanda was the only African country in this year’s top ten leading countries with women in politics. Besides Rwanda, there are only two parliaments where women account for above 50 per cent of the seats. They include Cuba and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), occupying the second and third spot respectively. For the first time, however, the global average of women in parliament reached a record high 25.5 per cent, an increase of 0.6 per cent from the previous edition. Be more open to women Lead authors of the report say that although progress has been steady over the past few years, it is still ‘excruciatingly’ slow. The IPU Secretary General, Martin Chungong, said: “Progress is being made, but parliaments must be more open to women. They should be gender-sensitive and transform their functioning and structures to facilitate work-life balance for women and men.” He also called for zero tolerance towards all forms of violence against women in politics, promotion of legal regimes for better inclusion of women and be key actors in women’s political empowerment. The annual IPU has tracked women’s participation in parliament for decades, allowing it to measure progress and setbacks, as well as measuring opportunities offered to men and women in society. The report authors warn that women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 citing that achieving gender parity in political life is far off, with the current data. This is not the first time Rwanda tops the global charts of women’s participation in government positions. Chungong, referred to the country as a role model for women’s participation in government. “We have seen evidence that where countries have come out of conflict and have had the opportunity to re-found the foundations of society, the legal framework of society, there is a greater chance of promoting gender equality.” Speaking to The New Times, Justine Mukobwa, the chairperson of the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum said that women world over are progressively reclaiming their rights. “Today in Rwanda, there is political will to ensure women occupy leadership positions; we are allowed to compete and show our ability…we are allowed to contribute in all decisions taken, hence having a role to play in the country’s development,” she said. She added: Of course we are not there yet, especially in local government and within private entities…this can be largely attributed to the lingering stereotypes in our communities.” Francine Havugimana, a local business woman and gender equality activist says that women empowerment is crucial especially in a country where majority of the population are women. This, she said, is beneficial because the voice of the many is not left behind. In addition, Havugimana says that a woman will take her leadership role more seriously than a man, as she strives to disabuse the stereotype that women are not able to do certain things. “They use double the efforts and it is little wonder that you will find most of the women in such positions being awarded for excellence.” Secondly, there is this natural belief that women will always want to steer away from danger, adding that this is why you will find most of them refusing to partake in vices such as corruption. Speaking to The New Times in an exclusive interview, Evariste Murwanishyaka the Programs Manager of the Umbrella of Human Rights Organizations in Rwanda (CLADHO) said that now more than ever, women in Rwanda have been given the equal opportunity as their male counterparts. “It has not always been like this. This was not the same case a few years ago, where women were belittled in society,” he added, “Today, they are not deprived of any right, and this solely contributed to the national development.” Murwanishyaka however decried that there lingers a loophole in local administrative positions which are still dominated by men. To address this, he pointed out the need for more awareness on the principle of gender equality, among other incentives. “Majority are still in the politically appointed positions, we need to see more in the local administrative positions going forward.” Another 50 years to achieve gender parity At the current pace, it will take another 50 years before gender parity is achieved in parliaments worldwide, according to the report. The President of the IPU Forum of Women Parliamentarians and Kenyan MP, Susan Kihika, said “While we note that a quarter of MPs in the world are women, we see how this still falls far short of representing half the world’s population. Unleashing the full potential of women who make up that 50 per cent should be our number one priority.” Gender quotas key to progress As the key to progress, the IPU advocates for well-designed quotas. Electoral gender quotas were applied in 25 of the 57 countries that had parliamentary renewals last year. On average, parliaments with quotas elected nearly 12 per cent more women to single and lower chambers, and 7.4 per cent more women to upper chambers. “Where women are involved in lawmaking on specific issues, the outcomes are better in terms of health care, in terms of the way even parliaments are functioning, making parliaments more gender sensitive”, said the IPU Secretary-General.